Haifa Adjusts as Hezbollah Rockets Rain Down Hezbollah rockets continued to rain down on the northern Israeli city of Haifa as battles between Shiite militias in Lebanon and Israelis enters its sixth day. Israel continues to target Hezbollah neighborhoods as far north as Beirut with artillery and air strikes.
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Haifa Adjusts as Hezbollah Rockets Rain Down

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Haifa Adjusts as Hezbollah Rockets Rain Down

Haifa Adjusts as Hezbollah Rockets Rain Down

Haifa Adjusts as Hezbollah Rockets Rain Down

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Hezbollah rockets continued to rain down on the northern Israeli city of Haifa as battles between Shiite militias in Lebanon and Israelis enters its sixth day. Israel continues to target Hezbollah neighborhoods as far north as Beirut with artillery and air strikes.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Madeleine Brand is away. I'm Noah Adams.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

The lead today, more of the grim news out of the Middle East. Israeli warplanes attacked targets in Lebanon for a sixth straight day, and a fresh volley of rockets, fired by Hezbollah militants, struck the northern port of Haifa.

Authorities closed the port, one of Israel's key shipping center's. Normal life in northern Israel is virtually shut down.

Yesterday, eight Israeli's were killed in Haifa when a rocket hit a train repair depot. Today, another rocket hit a three-story building, wounding six people, one of them seriously.

NPR's Linda Gradstein spent the day in Haifa. She joins us now. Linda, what's the mood like there? This is Israel's third largest city, yes?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Yes. And many people never believed that Hezbollah rockets could reach Haifa, which is about 25 miles from the border. And people said that they always thought that was something that people living on the border had to deal with.

I was there for three separate rocket attacks. And people are supposed to be inside anyway, but, you know, there are people out on the streets. They run for cover. You know, you hear the siren and then pretty soon afterwards you hear the thump of the rocket landing. And then often, you know, you hear ambulances going there.

And I went over to this building that was hit, where the whole front was basically torn off. And, of course, all the neighbors, you know, were very nervous - and people looking for relatives.

So, there's basically a pretty high level of anxiety.

CHADWICK: When you say these rockets land with a thump, they are carrying bombs, right? How big an explosion do they make?

GRADSTEIN: The closer you are, the louder it is. But if you're, you know, just about a kilometer or a half a mile away, you just kind of hear this thump. And then, and then it's hard to tell.

But these rockets also have in them, I picked up today at the scene, you know, lots of small metal balls. And the shrapnel can also wound people. The shrapnel, the pieces, are very, very sharp.

And anything that's near the rocket, when it lands, is likely, you know, to get damaged or if it's people, obviously they get hurt.

CHADWICK: Are people leaving Haifa, and indeed trying to get out of northern Israel? If, you know, 25 miles from the border is a place where you can get hit, what are they doing?

GRADSTEIN: Well, some people are leaving. I talked to one woman, in fact, who said that she wanted to send her children and her granddaughter out of the country. She even made reservations for them to fly to Budapest. But her four-month-old grandson has no passport, so they couldn't leave.

So I said, well, what about Eilat in southern Israel? And she said, believe me, I called every hotel in Eilat and they are booked 100 percent solid. And then, of course, there are some people who say that they refuse to leave. They refuse to be, you know, forced to leave their houses.

So, people are leaving, but it's not a mass exodus. Haifa has 270,000 people. And from what I've heard, maybe a few thousand have left.

CHADWICK: What is the sense of support, or maybe non-support, for the government's decision to undertake this offensive in Lebanon?

GRADSTEIN: There are, you know, some mixed feelings, although most of the people that I spoke to did seem to support the Israeli offensive in Lebanon. They said that Israel didn't start this, that it started when Hezbollah crossed the border and captured two Israeli soldiers. That Israeli can't live in the situation where anytime Hezbollah wants, they can just fire rockets. And they wan Israel to just get rid of Hezbollah, once and for all.

There were some voices who said that a military solution won't work, that this isn't the way to get the freedom of the soldiers or to stop the rocket attacks. And some people did express, you know, concern and sadness about the innocent Lebanese, on the other side of the border, who are being killed.

But most people that I spoke to did seem to support it. And they said that, you know, if it means that they have to stay in bomb shelters for another few days, that's a price they're willing to pay.

CHADWICK: NPR's Linda Gradstein reporting from Akko, Israel. That's right next to Haifa and just south of the border with Lebanon. Linda, thank you.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you.

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Hezbollah's Changing Mission

Lebanese population and Hezbollah militants celebrate the Israeli army's pull-out from southern Lebanon, May 24, 2000. Jacques Langevin/Corbis Sygma hide caption

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Jacques Langevin/Corbis Sygma

Hezbollah was formed in 1982 as a response to Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. The name means "Party of God," and the group derives its ideological inspiration from Iran.

Hezbollah garners moral support and financial assistance from both Iran and Syria, but analysts say the group acts independently. And over time, its original aim of driving Israel out of Lebanon has expanded into a powerful political and social force among Lebanon's Shiite Muslims, and possibly beyond.

Hezbollah entered Lebanese politics since 1992, and currently holds 14 seats in Lebanon's 128-seat national assembly, as well as the cabinet post of minister for water and electricity. It also draws support through its own private network of social and educational services. Its crowning achievement, though, was to force Israel's military to end its 22-year occupation in May 2000.

At the time, the militant group received widespread praise, including from Christian and secular Lebanese who opposed its hard-line ideology. But even as some hoped Hezbollah would then give up its arms and morph into a strictly political entity, Hezbollah set about expanding its influence.

Despite persistent international pressure, the group did not abandon its weapons nor deploy away from the Israeli border. And Lebanon's fragile government -- a delicate balance of the country's Shia, Sunni and Christian communities -- was not strong enough to force those measures.

Lebanon found itself in a bind after it promised to disarm all "militant" groups. But earlier this year, according to Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the government avoided a showdown by designating Hezbollah a "resistance" force against Israel instead of a militia. In this way, according to a State Department report Cordesman cites, Lebanon also exempts Hezbollah from money laundering and terrorism financing laws.

Just after the Israeli pullout, Hezbollah's TV station, Al-Manar, also went on satellite. One member said, "in this way, our jihad will continue."

The channel carries an odd mix of children's programming, anti-Israel game shows, and militant propaganda. Al-Manar has been banned in France, and declared a terrorist outfit by the United States.

In March 2004, again according to a State Department report, Hezbollah signed an agreement to join the Palestinian group Hamas in joint attacks against Israel.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has publicly referred to this assistance. And in recent years, Israel has accused Hezbollah of illicitly shipping arms to Palestinians via the Mediterranean Sea.

There is a long list of terror acts for which the United States and others blame or suspect Hezbollah, all the way back to suicide truck bombings of the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. The list also includes the 1985 hijacking of a TWA flight, in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed, and attacks on the Israeli embassy and cultural center in Argentina in the1990s.

Hezbollah has also seized Israeli soldiers before. In 2000, members disguised as U.N. soldiers, with a mock white U.N. vehicle, kidnapped three Israeli Defense Forces soldiers and a reservist. Sheik Nasrallah declared the reason was to trade them for militants held by Israel, and three years later, it worked. In a German-brokered deal, Hezbollah turned over the reservist and the bodies of the three soldiers (they had been killed). In exchange, Israel released 430 prisoners from Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.